This training video was shown to female soldiers in the 1970s to teach Army etiquette by comparing candidates for a coveted assignment.
Not surprisingly, the standards are sexist by modern standards. Candidates for the assignment are rated on how feminine and pretty they are. The office even agrees on the best performing member of the unit, but she’s knocked from the top spot for walking too much like a man. Another candidate lacks military discipline and is inefficient, but is easy to look at so she makes it into the top three.
The whole thing is two packs of cigarettes and an extra-marital affair away from being a ‘Mad Men’ episode. Check it out below.
You may never have heard of Basil Zaharoff. He’s not the Lord of War depicted by Nic Cage in the 2005 film; Zaharoff was actually around much, much earlier. Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, the “Lord of War” the Nic Cage movie is based on, has nothing on the original “Merchant of Death.”
It didn’t matter that they didn’t often work as directed.
Basil Zaharoff, the world’s richest arms dealer… eventually.
In the days before anyone actually cared about international arms trafficking, men like Zaharoff were renowned for their salesmanship. The Greek gun dealer and industrialist would become one of the richest men to live in his lifetime, selling weapons to anyone who was willing to purchase them, even if they were on opposing sides of a conflict. But his business cunning didn’t stop with getting people to buy. He was also adept at edging out his competition, selling the latest and greatest in military tech.
By the late 1880s, countries like the U.S., Britain, the Ottoman Empire, Germany, and Russia all sought out the Maxim Machine Guns, which Zaharoff had just gotten the rights to produce, along with the new submarines he was suddenly able to sell. While many of the world’s major powers eventually lost interest, the sub was especially interesting to Greece, the Ottoman Empire, and the Russian Empire.
Isaac Peral’s submarine in 1886.
Until this time, the use of submarines was intermittent and untrustworthy in combat. But when a Spanish sailor created one that was actually functional, useful, and fired weapons without killing the crew, it raised some eyebrows. After Zaharoff was able to sell one to the Greek Navy, it wasn’t long before the Ottoman Turks, Greece’s longtime nemesis, noticed. The arms dealer was able to convince the Turks the submarine was a game-changer. He later told the Russian Tsar the same thing, and that Russia needed two of its own to balance power in the region.
The only thing was, no one needed Isaac Peral’s submarine. While it was an advanced invention, none of the models Zaharoff sold to the Greeks, Turks, or Russians actually worked as advertised. It still had a few bugs to work out, and besides – Zaharoff didn’t have the actual submarines; he was working from stolen plans.
None of the submarines actually worked like Peral’s original.
How you walk when you sell five useless submarines to three countries who will never tell out of sheer embarrassment.
For all his failures of morality, Basil Zaharoff didn’t stoop to cheating the Allies out of much-needed cash after World War I broke out. Far from it. He used his skills as a merchant and salesman to further the Allied cause, ensuring Greece would stay in the Entente alliance and convincing the new Greek government to open a front against the Ottomans.
Of course, after the war ended, he went right back to his old tricks. He was selling weapons until the day he died in 1936, providing weapons to the Spanish government during the Spanish Civil War.
In World Wars I and II, where thousands of tanks clashed on land and hundreds of ships fought at sea, and millions of men charged each other through trenches and across hills and valleys on foot, hundreds of thousands of soldiers fought from their trusty steeds: the bicycle.
Yeah, the two-wheeled contraptions that most kids get for Christmas or a birthday a few times throughout their childhood was once a cutting-edge weapon of war — and they were effective.
Indian bicycle troops at the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
(Imperial War Museums)
The modern bicycle, with pedals and two wheels, emerged in the 1860s and slowly turned the “velocipede” from a leisure device of rich gentlemen into a viable method of transport. Fairly quickly, especially after the introduction of rubber tires, military experts saw a role for bicycles in wartime.
The European powers embraced the new technology first — not surprising, since that’s where the bike originated. Most military advocates pushed for the bike as a scout vehicle, allowing observers to get close to the front or ride near enemy units to collect data and then quickly get away with the information to friendly lines.
As the war ground on, Great Britain bought bicycles and trained troops to ride them, famously advertising that “bad teeth” were “no bar” to joining. Bicycle infantry units rode around the front, quickly reinforcing areas that had suffered unsustainable losses from German attacks or plussing up British positions for major attacks. Cyclists mounted coastal patrols and fought fires in areas raided by German aircraft.
And cyclists were added to standard units with even conventional infantry units getting a few cyclists to ride ahead and get orders, relaying them back to the unit so it could deploy effectively as it arrived. Eventually, even artillery units got cyclists, and some even experimented with towing the guns, especially machine guns, behind the bicycles. (This was one job that bikes weren’t great for. Just watch a dad huffing and puffing away while towing their kid — then imagine the kid weighs hundreds of pounds.)
It’s all whimsical and charming until you realize these are Nazi SS soldiers and they likely used the bicycles to more quickly murder people.
After all, many of the bike’s advantages over walking; the speed and the efficiency, or horseback riding, no animal to care for and feed, were also true of the automobiles. And, except for the need for gasoline, the automobile was simply a better tool. It was faster, could carry heavier loads, and it was less draining on the operator’s mind and body.
So, when World War II rolled around, the bicycle took on a smaller role, but it still served, mostly with scouts and the occasional military maneuver. Britain actually created a special bicycle for paratroopers, but then got larger gliders that could carry Jeeps before D-Day, so the bikes went ashore with Canadian soldiers and others instead of paratroopers.
Bicycle-mounted troops were key for many counterattacks or quick movements, especially where supply lines were long, or the demand for fuel for tanks was high. The fuel problems of Germany led to a greater concentration of bicycles in their units while the Allies, with better logistics and greater natural resources, relied more heavily on vehicles.
After World War II, some European militaries continued to employ these two-wheeled vehicles for reconnaissance and even anti-tank roles. Switzerland even kept its bicycle units around until 2001, nearly a century after standing up their first bicycle unit.
Gilbert Bates knew what a lack of understanding between people could lead to: violence and war. Bates was a Civil War veteran of the Wisconsin artillery who knew that people were basically good, no matter what the rumors said. If there was an area that was supposed to be hostile and dangerous for Americans, Bates would set out to prove the rumors wrong.
And he did so on more than one occasion.
After the Civil War ended, Sgt. Bates returned to his Wisconsin farm. Tensions between North and South were still high, even though the war had resolved the major issues. Northerner and Southerner were still mistrustful of one another. But Bates knew the South was in the Union for good. The victory was hard-won, but won nonetheless. So when his Wisconsin neighbors began to circulate rumors that the South was rising once more in rebellion and that any Northerner was not safe down there, Bates set out to prove them wrong by marching across the South with the U.S. Flag in hand.
Bates’ march received so much notoriety at the time that even Mark Twain, the famous American author wrote of it, predicting that Bates would “get more black eyes, down there among those unreconstructed rebels than he can ever carry along with him without breaking his back.” But everyone who predicted his demise greatly exaggerated.
Bates walked across the unreconstructed South, some 1,500 miles, through Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia to Washington, DC. He didn’t arrive on one leg and with an eye missing, as Twain predicted. The opposite was true, actually. Bates received genteel Southern Hospitality everywhere he went, even flying the American flag he carried over the former Confederate capital at Richmond. The only place he wasn’t allowed to fly it was over the U.S. Capitol building.
This march led to Bates taking on a bet. A wealthy friend of his bet the flag carrier that he could not do the same march across England without receiving a single insult. Bates, who had an incredible belief in the goodness of his fellow man took that bet.
Relations with England at the time of the Civil War were much different from the “Special Relationship” we enjoy today. In the 1860s, the British were more interested in King Cotton than supporting the United States against its rebels. In many ways, the English Crown supported the Confederacy, if not openly, then as an open secret. Still undeterred, Bates marched on foot – in full Union uniform – across the country. He walked some 400 miles from the border of Scotland to London to great fanfare. The English could not support him enough. He never paid for a meal or a place to sleep. By the time he got to London, the crowds swelled so much he had to take a carriage to the raise the Stars and Stripes next to the Union Jack.
Upon arriving, he telegrammed his friend, canceling the bet. To Bates, the event was worth more than any sum.
Four out of 45 US presidents have been assassinated over the course of American history.
But many more chief executives escaped assassination attempts thanks to heroic bystanders, diligent guards, misfiring pistols, and crazy luck.
Even two presidents who were eventually assassinated escaped previous attempts on their lives.
On a hot August night in 1864, a sniper shot Lincoln’s hat off his head — missing his skull by inches — as he took a solo ride on his favorite horse “Old Abe,” according to 1864: Lincoln at the Gates of History. Lincoln was later shot and killed by Confederate sympathizer, John Wilkes Booth, just five days after the surrender of Robert E. Lee.
Almost a century later, in 1960, retired postal worker Richard Paul Pavlick crammed his car with dynamite and plotted to ram the vehicle into Kennedy’s limo in Palm Beach, Florida, according to Smithsonian Magazine. He was motivated by his intense hatred of Catholics and the Kennedy family but backed off when he saw that the president was with his wife and young children. Pavlick was later arrested and institutionalized until 1966, three years after Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald while visiting Dallas, Texas.
But these 13 other presidents all experienced serious assassination threats and ultimately survived — and these are only the most dramatic, most-publicized instances. Undoubtedly, the Secret Service has thwarted many more over the years.
Here are 13 presidents who escaped attempts on their lives:
1. Andrew Jackson
On a misty January day in 1835, Richard Lawrence, an out-of-work house painter who believed he was the 15th-century English king Richard III, walked into the US Capitol Building.
President Andrew Jackson was leaving the funeral of a House representative when the English national confronted him in the East Portico, brandishing a pistol.
He raised the gun at Andrew Jackson and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened.
“Let me alone! Let me alone!” Jackson yelled at Lawrence, according to Smithsonian Magazine. “I know where this came from.”
Lawrence discarded the weapon, produced a second pistol, and aimed the new gun at Jackson. It also misfired.
According to legend, Jackson subsequently flew at the man and thrashed him with his cane. Whether or not that’s true, Lawrence’s assassination attempt was unsuccessful. Smithsonian Magazine reported that National Anthem lyricist, Francis Scott Key, prosecuted his trial, where he was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Lawrence spent the rest of his life institutionalized.
As Time reported, the chance that both perfectly functional pistols would misfire was about one in 125,000. Jackson’s survival may have depended on the dampness in the air that day.
2. Theodore Roosevelt
President Theodore Roosevelt was saved by the length of his speech after an assassin shot him in the chest with a .38-caliber revolver in 1912.
At the time, Roosevelt was running for the presidency on the Bull and Moose ticket. Saloon-owner John Schrank had begun stalking the former president after having an unusual dream.
According to Killing the President: Assassinations, Attempts, and Rumored Attempts on U.S. Commanders-in-Chief, Schrank wrote, “In a dream, I saw President McKinley sit up in his coffin pointing at a man in a monk’s attire in whom I recognized Theodore Roosevelt. The dead President said, ‘This is my murderer — avenge my death.'”
Fortunately, Roosevelt had his notes with him when he was shot on October 14 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin — 50 pages of them, folded in his breast pocket next to his metal glasses case. These objects slowed the bullet and saved Roosevelt’s life.
The ex-president continued to speak after letting his audience know he’d been shot, according to the Theodore Roosevelt Association:
“Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose. But fortunately I had my manuscript, so you see I was going to make a long speech, and there is a bullet — there is where the bullet went through — and it probably saved me from it going into my heart. The bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech, but I will try my best.”
He finished the rest of his speech with a bullet in his ribs, where it remained until his death in 1919.
In 1928, President Herbert Hoover was nearly killed while visiting the Andes.
Argentine anarchists attempted to blow up his train, but the would-be assassin was seized before he could plant the bombs on the tracks.
After learning of the thwarted plot, Hoover tore the front page story from the newspaper so his wife Lou Henry Hoover wouldn’t worry, according to the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. The 31st president is said to have quipped that while he was unconcerned, “It’s just as well that Lou shouldn’t see it.”
4. Franklin D. Roosevelt
17 days before Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first presidential inauguration, the president-elect disembarked from his yacht and made a short speech in Miami, Florida on February 15, 1933. As the Chicago Tribune reported, Chicago mayor Anton Cermak then approached Roosevelt for a short chat afterward.
At that moment, anarchist Giuseppe Zangara opened fire. Roosevelt emerged from the attack unscathed, but Cermak was mortally wounded, along with onlooker Mabel Gill.
It’s unclear who Zangara intended to assassinate. He was arrested and went to the electric chair after ten days on death row.
Ten years later, Soviet officials claimed to have uncovered a Nazi plan to murder Roosevelt and other world leaders at the Tehran Conference, according to Eureka Summit: Agreement in Principle and the Big Three at Tehran, 1943.
5. Harry S. Truman
According to the New York Times, Harry Truman’s daughter Margaret Truman Daniel alleged in her father’s biography that a Zionist gang had sent him and several other White House officials mail bombs in 1947. The alleged incident was never publicized and apparently ended with the Secret Service defusing the explosives.
The more famous attempt on Truman’s life came about on November 1, 1950. Puerto Rican nationalists Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola attempted to storm the Blair House, where Truman lived while the White House was being renovated, according to the Harry S. Truman Library.
Torresola and White House police officer Leslie Coffelt died in the attack. Truman commuted Collazo’s death sentence to life, which was then commuted to time served by Jimmy Carter in 1979.
6. Richard Nixon
Arthur Bremer, who ultimately shot and paralyzed Alabama governor George Wallace, first considered targeting President Richard Nixon, according to the Washington Post.
A more high-profile Nixon assassination attempt came about on February 22, 1974. According to the LA Weekly, Samuel Byck shot and killed a police officer at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, raced through the security checkpoint, and broke onto a Delta flight to Atlanta. Hours earlier, he had mailed a tape to the Washington Post detailing his plan to hijack an airliner and crash it into the White House, in order to kill Nixon.
Once onboard the aircraft, he shot both pilots, killing one, after he was told that they could not take off. Police shot Byck through the plane’s window, and he killed himself before he could be arrested.
President Gerald Ford survived two back-to-back assassination attempts in California during September of 1975.
At a packed park in Sacramento, California on September 5, Manson Family member Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme drew a gun after Ford reached into the crowd to shake her hand.
There was no round in the firing chamber, so the gun misfired and she was grabbed by Secret Service, as NBC reported. After receiving a life sentence, Fromme was released from prison in 2009, two years after Ford’s natural death.
Only a few days later, self-proclaimed radical Sara Jane Moore shot a revolver at Ford in San Francisco on September 22. The shot missed thanks to the efforts of ex-Marine and bystander Oliver Sipple, who grabbed Moore’s arm, according to the San Francisco Gate. Moore was paroled in 2007, a year after Ford died.
8. Jimmy Carter
On May 5, 1979, police arrested drifter Raymond Lee Harvey outside of the Civic Center Mall in LA, ten minutes before Jimmy Carter was scheduled to give a speech there.
He had a starter pistol, with several blank rounds, according to the Atlantic. Harvey claimed to be part of a cell that sought to assassinate Carter, but due to his history of mental illness, the men he named as co-conspirators were later released.
John Hinckley Jr., who would later attempt to assassinate Ronald Reagan, also considered shooting Carter in 1980, but backed out, according to the Dayton Daily News.
9. Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan came close to losing his life in an assassination attempt on March 30, 1981.
As the New York Times reported, John Hinckley Jr. opened fire as the president walked to his limousine from the Washington Hilton around 2:30 p.m. Press Secretary James Brady suffered brain damage from the attack and eventually succumbed to his injuries years later, and Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy and DC police officer Thomas Delahanty were also wounded.
Reagan was shot once in the chest and suffered serious internal bleeding and a punctured lung. He received emergency surgery at George Washington University Hospital, where he remained for several weeks.
After the attack, Reagan famously retained his sense of humor. He’s quoted as telling his wife, “Honey, I forgot to duck” and jokingly asking whether the surgeons due to operate on him were Republicans, according to Time.
Hinckley claimed to have carried out the attack to impress actress Jodie Foster, whom he was stalking. He was institutionalized and released in 2016, after being deemed to no longer pose a threat to others.
10. Bill Clinton
President Bill Clinton was the subject of several assassination plots during his stint in the White House.
Three alone occurred in 1994. Ronald Gene Barbour sought to kill the president on his daily jog through the National Mall, according to the New York Times.
Later that year, Frank Eugene Corder rammed a red and white single-engine airplane onto the White House lawn, in an attempt to kill Clinton, according to the New York Times. Corder died when the vehicle “crashed through the branches of a magnolia tree planted by Andrew Jackson and came to rest in a crumpled heap two stories below the Clintons’ unoccupied bedroom.”
A month later, in October, Francisco Martin Duran slipped a suicide note into his pocket and fired numerous shots at the north lawn, according to the Los Angeles Times. A group of tourists ultimately tackled Duran and he was arrested.
An assassination attempt later took place abroad, during Clinton’s visit to Manila in 1996. A bomb was discovered under a bridge that the president’s motorcade was scheduled to travel over. The bomb plot was apparently masterminded by Osama bin Laden, according to the Telegraph.
11. George W. Bush
Robert Pickett, an ex-IRS employee with a history of mental illness, fired several bullets at the White House in February 2001, before a Secret Service agent shot him in the knee, according to the New York Times. President George W. Bush was exercising in the residential area of the White House at the time. Pickett was treated in a Bureau of Prisons psychological institution for two years following the incident.
A few years later, in 2005, Bush had a closer call while traveling abroad.
Bush and then-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili appeared at a 2006 rally in Tbilisi, Georgia. During the event, Georgian national Vladimir Arutyunian tied a red handkerchief around a live hand grenade and threw it at the presidents and other officials, according to the Washington Post.
However, the explosive didn’t detonate. The handkerchief had blocked the grenade’s safety lever. Arutyunian escaped from the rally, and later killed a Georgian agent during his arrest. He was sentenced to life in prison for the assassination attempt.
While Barack Obama was still a presidential candidate in 2008, two white supremacists named Paul Schlesselman and Daniel Cowart conspired to murder 102 African American men — while driving around in a getaway car with the words “Honk if you love Hitler” scrawled on it.
Their conspiracy would culminate with the assassination of Obama. As CBS News reported, police uncovered the detailed plot and arrested the duo long before they were close to launching their cross-country murder spree.
Later, in 2011, Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez open fire on the White House after claiming that Obama was the anti-Christ, according to the Washington Post. He crashed his car while escaping, and was later arrested and sentenced to 27.5 years in jail. The Obamas were not in the White House at the time of the shooting.
In April 2013, a letter addressed to Obama tested positive for ricin, a deadly poison. James Everett Dutschke was sentenced to 25 years in jail for the ricin mailing plot, according to Politico.
Then, in 2015, CNN reported that three men — Abror Habibov, Abdurasul Juraboev, and Akhror Saidakhmetov — had been arrested after plotting to kill Obama and bomb Coney Island in their efforts to join ISIS.
13. Donald Trump
At a campaign rally in a Las Vegas Strip hotel-casino, Michael Steven Sandford attempted to grab a police officer’s gun. As he was taken into custody, the British national told officers that he was hoping to assassinate then-presidential candidate, Donald Trump.
The Guardian reported that Sandford has a history of mental illness, which Judge James Mahan acknowledged in his hearing, saying that Sandford needed help and wasn’t a “hardened criminal” — or even intent on assassinating Trump.
“I know saying sorry is not enough,” Sandford told the court, according to the Guardian. “I really do feel awful about what I did. I wish there was some way to make things better. I have cost taxpayers so much money. I feel terrible.”
On May 6, KYT 24 reported that Sandford had been deported to the UK, after being in US custody for about 11 months.
Easily one of the rarest medals a troop can earn is the Antarctica Service Medal. Spend a single day in Antarctica, south of 60 degrees latitude in the Southern hemisphere, and you’ve forever got bragging rights.
Do it in the wintertime and you’ve earned a distinctive “Wintered Over” clasp you can hold over everyone else. But being authorized to get down there is the hardest part.
Since its discovery in 1820, numerous nations who’ve landed in Antarctica have stuck their flags in the ground and claimed it as their own. Because the continent has essentially no readily available resources, is extremely remote, and was nearly impossible to settle on long-term, the flags (and their claims) were fairly weak.
But that didn’t stop many nations from trying to hold a claim. The United Kingdom (and, by extension, Australia and New Zealand), France, Norway, Argentina, Chile, and Nazi Germany all claimed portions of the continent. The United States and the USSR also held the right to make a claim but never did.
To ease tensions between all parties in 1959, the Antarctica Treaty was established which laid the ground rules for the continent. It was agreed that Antarctica is the “common heritage of mankind” and could not belong to an entity, territorial claim or not.
This was established to increase scientific understanding of the region and allow scientists the ability to freely communicate. Another article of the treaty bans military personnel and nuclear weapons testing from the continent.
The only exception to this policy is that troops are allowed entry into Antarctica as long as it’s done for scientific research and other peaceful purposes — this is the exact mission of every troop who travels south of the 60-degree line.
Airmen, sailors, and coast guardsmen will routinely travel to scientific research facilities to give aid, transportation, or supplies. However, finding the justification to send soldiers or Marines is more limited.
These troops can be found at McMurdo Station, one of the largest coastal facilities on the continent, and Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, which is a scientific research facility located at the geographic south pole.
One of the most useful and game-changing weapons of World War II was radar, a technology that allowed Allied pilots to know when and where to fly in order to intercept incoming German bombers, but Britain was actually hunting for a super weapon: A death ray.
In 1935, World War II had essentially not started yet. Japan was conducting limited, intermittent fighting with China, but Europe was technically at peace. Except war was clearly bubbling up. Germany was re-building its military in violation of the Peace Treaty of Versailles, and Italy launched a successful invasion of Ethiopia.
Britain knew, sooner or later, it would get dragged into a fight. Either Italy would attack colonial possessions in Africa that belonged to it or its allies, or Germany would attempt to conquer Europe. And there was a rumor that Germany had developed a weapon that could wipe out entire towns.
(This may have been a result of early nuclear research. German scientists made some of the critical first breakthroughs in what would later result in nuclear bombs.)
So British leaders asked Robert Watson-Watt if his research, using electromagnetic radiation to detect clouds, could be used to kill enemy pilots.
Yes, they wanted a death ray. But Watson-Watts quickly realized that he couldn’t get that much energy into the clouds. His work, which would lead to modern day weather radar, used a magnetron to send microwave radiation into the sky. But it wasn’t a focused beam of energy, and there simply wasn’t enough juice to kill or even seriously distract an enemy pilot.
To get an idea of how the death ray would’ve had to work, imagine a microwave that could cook a human in less than a minute while they were still miles away. That would be a huge, power-sucking microwave and essentially technically impossible to build.
But Watson-Watts came back with an alternative proposal. The death ray was dead in the water, but the magnetrons could be used to detect planes just like clouds, but even more effectively. And the early math around the idea revealed that the device could see enemy planes for miles and miles, eventually 100 miles out.
British troops guard a downed German Messerschmitt Bf 109 in August 1940. Radar helped British pilots hold off German advances despite a shortage of pilots and planes.
(Imperial War Museums)
This was game-changing for British pilots when war did break out and reach British shores. Germany quickly conquered France and then began attacking England in the Battle of Britain, using the Luftwaffe to bomb British targets and take on British fighters. The British were outnumbered, and so they needed to make each flight hour of each pilot count for as much as possible.
Radar made this possible. If Britain could only spot incoming German forces with human eyeballs, it would need a large number of spotters on the ground and pilots in the air at all times. But with radar looking out a hundred miles, the Royal Air Force could fly fewer patrols and keep most pilots resting on the ground until needed, instead.
When radar detected incoming planes, the in-air patrols could fly to intercept as additional forces scrambled into the sky as necessary. The network of radar stations would become the “Chain Home” system, and it watched Britain to the north, east, and south.
Germany developed its own radar and deployed it operationally in 1940.
Britain never got its death ray, but Japan did experiment with making a death ray like Watson-Watts considered. They used magnetrons to create microwave radiation in an experimental design that did kill at least one rabbit targeted during tests. But killing the rabbit required that it stay still for 10 minutes, not exactly useful in combat. A groundhog took 20 minutes.
It’s hard to imagine days without Prime delivery, instant downloads and fast food. But 160 years ago, things like mail took a really long time. The Pony Express changed delivery forever.
Here are 5 facts you probably didn’t know about the Pony Express:
It actually was pretty fast
Before the Pony Express, if you sent a letter from somewhere on the east coast to California, it would take upwards of 25 days. If it had to go by ship, it would take months. The Pony Express men began their deliveries in April of 1960 and their average delivery time was only 10 days. The riders set a record when they delivered President Lincoln’s inaugural address to California in just seven days and 17 hours! But that speed came at a price.
Here’s what it cost
Each delivery initially cost around , which would be well over 0 today. So, suffice to say, the average person wasn’t utilizing this service. Instead, things like newspaper and government reports or even business related material was sent on the Pony Express. The cost to send mail was high and so was the risk of those involved.
When the owners started the company, they set up around 200 posts or relief stations across frontier country. Each rider would switch mounts every 10 to 15 miles at one of these stations and pass off their delivery to a new rider after about three or four days. Although history may talk about the dangers of being a rider, these posts were set up in very remote areas and often attacked or ambushed by Indians. More men who manned these stations died than riders.
Your weight was a qualifying factor
Not just anyone could be a Pony Express rider. They had to be between 100 to 125 pounds, brave and expert riders. One such advertisement for riders went even further. They specifically asked for men not over 18 who were willing to risk death daily and stated that orphans were preferred. All riders also had to sign an oath, promising not to drink, curse or fight.
It lasted less than two years
Although this was an incredible advance in delivery for its time, it didn’t last. Western Union developed the transcontinental telegraph line and launched it in 1861 — rendering the Pony Express useless. Despite the fact that the Pony men only operated for 19 months, they would go down in history as legends. The Pony Express stories of bravery while racing across the Wild West have been retold a thousand times over, even if many of these stories have been exaggerated and are considered folklore.
The Pony Express trademark is now owned by the United States Postal Service and its history is richly celebrated. To learn more about the Pony Express, check out the website for their national museum.
Unless you are a member of special ops, most U.S. military members these days are not allowed to rock a beard. Which is a damn shame, because it wasn’t always this way.
After shaving every day of their time in, some veterans make growing a beard their first order of business once they get out of the military. But there were times — we’ll refer to them as “the good ol’ days” — when you could grow a beard. In fact, it was often encouraged.
For about the first 66 years of its existence, the Navy didn’t really have much of a standardized grooming standard. Many sailors during the Revolution opted for clean shaves, until sideburns became a thingaround 1812. The Navy finally implemented grooming standards in 1841 that mandated “hair and beards had to be cut short,” according to the US Naval Institute.
In the early years of the Army, beards were expressly forbidden and soldiers were required to shave at least three days per week, according to this article at Defense Media Network. This of course dramatically changed during the Civil War, when everyone from Pvt. Joe Schmoe to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was seen rocking face armor.
The Navy slightly modified its rules in 1852 to ban officers from wearing mustaches and imperials — a larger ‘stache featuring whiskers styled upward over a man’s cheeks — but it was later relaxed to allow “neatly trimmed” beards. Much like the Army during the Civil War, there was some pretty interesting interpretations of “neatly trimmed.”
Many sailors of the late 19th and 20th century followed the prevailing fashions of the day, dropping their beards for the mustache and goatee, according to Navy History. Some continued to wear beards, which was generally allowed as long as they were trimmed.
There were some notable exceptions: Sailors operating in colder climates could have full face jackets, and those on submarines didn’t have to shave more as a necessity, since fresh water was usually scarce.
For soldiers on the ground, the death of the beard came along with the need for gas masks. The first World War saw the widespread use of chemical weapons, and gas masks needed to maintain a proper seal against the skin to be effective. Having whiskers didn’t exactly inspire confidence when chlorine gas was involved.
“They were eliminated in the US military in WWI due to the need to wear gas masks,” Penny Jolly, a professor of art and art history, told the BBC. “Razors were issued in GI kits, so men could shave themselves on the battlefield.” The clean-shaven soldier eventually became the norm for the World Wars and beyond.
Still, the reasoning against soldiers having beards has often boiled down to maintaining a uniform appearance and keeping a good seal on a gas mask, and it continues to this day.
In 1970, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo Zumwalt came in and basically said to hell with grooming and uniform regs in attempt to raise morale. Zumwalt — a wearer of his own sweet set of sideburns — issued one of his famous “Z-grams” in Nov. 1970, which directed the Navy to “adapt to changing fashions” of the day, which meant beards, mustaches, and sideburns, my man.
Beards were a staple of the Navy for quite a time, although even Zumwalt figured out his changes to the regs were a bit too permissive, USNI notes:
It did not take long before Navy ships began to look like they were crewed by hippies who had crashed their bus into a military surplus store. Even Zumwalt realized that the liberalization of grooming standards had gone too far and needed to be scaled back. Hair and beards were ordered to be neat while “eccentricities” such as mutton chop sideburns were outlawed.
Besides the surface fleet, Navy SEALs operating in Vietnam were allowed to rock beards, and the “Vietnamese regarded beards as a reflection of wisdom gained with age,” wrote Maury Docton at Quora.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and the beard (even on submarines) became a thing of the past under Chief of Naval Operations Adm. James D. Watkins, who outlawed them in Dec. 1984. Beardos were outraged at the time: “‘It’s rotten,” Petty Officer Richard New told The New York Times. “I don’t think they can tell you everything to do.”
It turns out they can, and the order still remains in effect today. Across all the military services, beards are no longer allowed and even mustaches need to be trimmed within the corners of the mouth — a look so terrible even Hitler would say “what in the hell?”
Military history is full of battles fought against unbelievable odds. Sometimes they win, sometimes they lose. The story of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae is likely the most famous outnumbered fighters. Poland’s cavalry charge against Nazi armor at Krojanty is famed for its technological disadvantage.
But whatever success the Poles and Spartans saw against their formidable foes came because of sheer will and determination, not because of any equalizing circumstances. Sometimes, that’s just what it takes. Sometimes, success means never giving up. With a little bit of luck, even the most unprepared, obsolete or foolhardy fighter can win the day.
Some of today’s most powerful weapons might make that kind of winning more difficult, but it can still be done. A North Korean discovered the power of dumb luck while flying over a United Nations base on a night raid.
North Korea’s air force isn’t known for its technological superiority and it never has been. Even today, more people know the Korean People’s Air Force more for training with the power of imagination rather than anything else.
Even when they’re fighting a real war with real enemies, they are still a couple of decades behind technological advancement. During the 1950-1953 Korean War, North Korea was still flying Polikarpov PO-2 biplanes to make bombing runs. This is a plane that was built in the 1920s and was used by the Soviet Union as a trainer until World War II.
During World War II, the Soviets began to use it for reconnaissance, resupply missions, and the occasional night bombing. It was one of the planes used by the all-women Soviet fighter group nicknamed the “Night Witches,” who would bomb German barracks with their engines shut off.
The Soviet Union didn’t use it after World War II, because by then the world had moved on from biplanes and propellers to aluminum and jet engines. But North Korea found a use for them. It was on one of these night raids that a PO-2 Polikarpov managed to down a jet fighter over North Korea.
Except the Polikarpov didn’t so much shoot down the jet fighter. The aging biplane was the instrument of the plane’s destruction, though.
After one of the Polikarpovs’ feared night raids, an advanced Lockheed F-94 Starfire was dispatched with the mission of taking down the raiders. The Starfire was an all-weather, day and night interceptor fighter that was so advanced, it wasn’t even allowed to fly in North Korea, because the U.S. was worried one might get shot down and captured by the communist forces.
It was more dumb luck that allowed this Polikarpov to beat the Starfire. With a top speed of 94 miles per hour, the wood and canvas “fighter” was flying much too slow for the jet fighter, with a top speed of 640 miles per hour.
Unable to lock onto the target with radar (either due to its slow speed or the fact that plywood doesn’t bounce back radar waves), the jet fighter had to slow down enough to hit the North Korean, which proved to be the Starfire’s undoing.
The Starfire slowed to 100 miles per hour, which was lower than its stall speed. Once it dipped below that speed, its engine sputtered and stalled, causing the plane to crash.
A secret plan was passed around the Roosevelt Administration in 1940 and 1941 that called for dozens of American bombers with American crews masked by Chinese markings to fly bombing missions against Japanese cities, crippling crucial war production facilities and, hopefully, keeping Japan too busy with China to attack British and American interests in the Pacific.
For President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the late 1930s and early 1940s were a minefield of grave threats to the American people. The war in Europe posed a significant threat to American allies while growing tensions in the Pacific were looking disastrous to both allied and American interests and territory. All the while, the American economy was still trying to scramble its way out of the Great Depression.
There is debate today about whether Roosevelt was trying to pull a reluctant America into war with Japan in 1940 and 1941, but it is certain that he saw American and British interests as being threatened by the island nation — and he wanted to make sure that the Japanese were either deterred from attacking Western interests or so hamstrung by the war with China that they couldn’t attack.
One of the plans that emerged from his administration would later become known as “JB 355.” It called for the formation of a new Chinese front company using money from the Lend-Lease Act. This company, headed by former Army pilot and then-director of the Chinese Air Force flight school, Claire Chennault, would be a Second American Volunteer Group. Like the First American Volunteer Group, it would be disguised as a Chinese mercenary group but manned by American pilots and supplied with American planes.
The 1st AVG was already formed and undergoing training in the summer of 1941 when JB 355 was approved. With 100 American fighter aircraft and 99 American pilots, it was preparing to attack Japanese air forces and disrupt their shipping operations.
Some of the pilots in the First American Volunteer Group pose with their P-40.
(U.S. Air Force archives)
The mission of the 2nd AVG, approved in July 1941, would be very different. Comprised of 50 American bombers and the appropriate crews, the 2nd AVG was to drop incendiary weapons on Japanese cities, like Tokyo, that were essential to Japan’s war production.
The attacks were tentatively scheduled for November.
So, why didn’t American bombs strike Tokyo the month before Japanese bombs hit Pearl Harbor?
The first planes ordered for the Second American Volunteer Group were Lockheed Hudsons, but they were never delivered because shortages delayed their production until after the Pearl Harbor attacks made the company unnecessary.
(National Museum of the Air Force)
Because American industry was not yet on a full, wartime footing. There simply weren’t enough supplies to fulfill all the approved requests.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall was struggling to get supplies everywhere they were needed throughout 1941. He detailed some of his efforts and setbacks in a February letter to Lt. Gen. Walter C. Short who had just taken command at Pearl Harbor. In the letter, he explained where all of his supplies were going but promised that his priority was to protect the Navy’s fleet:
You, of course, understand the pressures on the Department for the limited materiel we have, for Alaska, for Panama, and, most confidentially, for the possible occupation of the Azores, not to mention the new leased bases. However, as I have already said, we are keeping clearly in mind that our first concern is to protect the Fleet.
For most soldiers in the Vietnam-era, the time between getting drafted or volunteering and their heading to war was short. The Army had each draftee for only two years. After they were shipped to basic, trained, shipped overseas, plus the time needed to ship home and use their two months of accrued leave, each draftee could expect a year of deployed time preceded by 4-6 months of training.
Volunteers, especially officers, had it a little better. They may train for up to a year before deploying — attending advanced training like Ranger School after basic and job training.
A recently recovered film of the Battle of Dak To shows two hours of fighting in and around Hill 724, another tough terrain feature captured. Bob Walkoviak, one of the veterans in the discussion above, fought on the hill and helped find the lost footage.
Britain attempted a bold strategy early in the first World War: Knock the Ottoman Empire out of the war by defeating it at home, restricting the number of troops that the Central Powers could muster on the eastern and western fronts. It was a gamble that, if successful, could have seen the initial landing of five divisions knock an empire out of the war and reduce enemy forces by millions of troops.
Unfortunately for the UK, the strategy failed, leaving leadership to decide between reinforcing the Gallipoli Peninsula or evacuating the more than 80,000 troops strung along the front under the fire of Turkish guns.
The original invasion in February, 1915, had become quickly bogged down in the peninsula’s sharp terrain of ridges and valleys, and a stalemate starting in August poured fuel on the fires of calls for evacuation. On October 11, London asked Sir Ian Hamilton, the operation’s commander, what he thought his losses in an evacuation would be.
He responded that he would lose 50 percent — over 40,000 men.
Luckily, London had a general who had recently returned from France that was in better standing at that moment. By October 16, just five days later, Hamilton was out and Sir Charles Munro was headed to the front.
Munro was in favor of an evacuation of Gallipoli because he knew how badly reinforcements were needed in France. Sending any more troops to fight the Ottoman Empire would mean further shortages in France while an evacuation would allow for tens of thousands of more troops to head where many leaders thought they were more badly needed.
“It is upon the existence of perfectly normal conditions,” White said, “that I rely for success.”
In phase one, nonessential personnel would slowly pull back to the ships at night under absolute quiet. At the front, defenders would remain silent until Ottoman patrols wandered close to see what was going on, then the defenders would open up with machine guns, rifles, and whatever else was at hand.
The drip rifle allowed troops to hide their withdrawal.
Meanwhile, during the day, groups of men were ordered to light extra campfires, to march in pre-determined patterns, and to move from ships to shore like they were newly arriving reinforcements. Starting December 8, these men acted like “Groundhog Day” characters, repeating all their actions like clockwork to give the impression that nothing out of the ordinary was happening.
This allowed the British and their allies to get the number of evacuees down to roughly 40,000 troops.
To further mask the withdrawal, the final defenders to pull out of positions would leave “drip rifles,” weapons positioned at firing positions with two tins of water and a candle positioned so that they would fire a few minutes after the soldier departed, giving the impression that the men were still in the trenches.
As for the men on the beaches, they miraculously escaped with almost no loss of life. White’s tricks were so successful that the Ottomans basically treated the situation like it was “winter quarters,” where both sides hunker down for limited contact until the weather improves.